Entrepreneurship and Disability
How they link to each other – and some success stories
The world of start-ups has bloomed over the past decade. Some people are pushed into self-employment due to economic or personal situations. Others are pulled to it due to an innovative business idea or in search of a more modern work environment. Whether through creating a new app, a product or a service, people from around the world are becoming entrepreneurs.
Interestingly, in many European countries, people with disabilities are more likely to be self-employed than those without a disability. Below you can find an overview of what entrepreneurship is, what it takes to be an entrepreneur, how it links to disability, and also read some success stories from around the globe.
What is entrepreneurship?
As defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, entrepreneur is “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise”. Like most official definitions, this doesn’t really tell us very much about what entrepreneurship looks like in real life. Entrepreneurship can be thought of as the fun cousin of self-employment. In addition to the characteristics of self-employment, entrepreneurship includes innovation. That means something new, whether it is a product, service, or method, is being brought to the market.
Who can be an entrepreneur?
An entrepreneur can be anyone who has the drive, skills, and commitment to start a new and innovative business. Skills which are often associated with entrepreneurs include leadership and management skills, interpersonal skills as well as negotiation and communication skills. This list of skills may sound intimidating and only for the most experienced business people. However, dedication and the ability to learn from successes and failures will be a great start on the road to entrepreneurship.
The link between entrepreneurship and disability
Over the past decade, a lot of research has been done on the link between self-employment, entrepreneurship and people with disabilities. Both national and international organizations have made goals to improve representation of people with disabilities in what is often called inclusive entrepreneurship.
A specific subgroup of entrepreneurship is called social entrepreneurship, meaning that in addition to the goal of making a profit, the new business is also trying to solve a social issue. Like Rob Smith, whom you will soon read about: he created a device to help with gripping. The device does not only make him money but also helps many people who have difficulties with gripping things.
Stories of entrepreneurs with disabilities
People with disabilities have taken their unique situations and turned them into social and commercial entrepreneurial opportunities. Read some of their stories.
Rob Smith, the founder of Active Hands, was a twenty-year-old university student when he fell off a cliff. This accident caused him to suffer a high-level spinal cord injury leaving him with partial paralysis in all four limbs. Following the accident, Rob found frustration in the inability to grasp objects, thus limiting his ability to do many activities that he loved. Along with the help of his mother, Rob created the first Active Hands prototype to help him hold onto objects more tightly. After some friends showed interest in Active Hands, Rob realized he had created something new and innovative. The Active Hands Company was born.
Review My Wheelchair
As a wheelchair user for the past twenty years, Dominic Lund-Conlon failed to find any website which can provide him unbiased reviews of the wheelchairs before purchase. Therefore, he created the website called Review My Wheelchair. Its goal is to provide unbiased and clear reviews for wheelchair users by testing wheelchairs in real life situations – without taking any money from companies to do so. Dominic is one of the 2019 finalists for the prestigious Stelios Awards for Disabled Entrepreneurs in the UK.
Friends K. Balaji and Mohammad Gadaffi started the company Maa Ula providing bike-taxi services in Chennai, India. Both men found it difficult to carry out traditional work in India, thus had a push towards entrepreneurship. One day as Balaji was dropping his yoga teacher after a class, the teacher suggested him to provide rides for a fee. Taking this idea with the help of Gadaffi, Maa Ula was born. What makes this company a social entrepreneurial project is that all of its drivers are people with disabilities, making it the first of its kind in India. Here’s a look at how the company operates:
Like any new endeavour, taking on the task of a start-up comes with many challenges and stresses. Once a good idea has been created, it does not mean that the job is done. Resources such as time, money, and knowledge are needed to get an idea off the ground. The path of entrepreneurship is not for everyone. For every successful start-up, there are many which don’t make it. Those who do succeed, like Rob or Dominic, find fulfillment in the flexibility and challenges of entrepreneurship.
Do you know an entrepreneur with a disability? Which new product or service for people with disabilities would you like to see on the market?